Review by GFaqsLurker1
"You gotta be kidding me"
Persona 4 is the latest entry in the somewhat long running Persona series which is a spin-off series of the popular SMT series. Persona games generally involve a group of high school students who are thrown into super-natural situations (e.g. situations dealing with curses, demons, gods and goddesses and so on).
Beginning with Persona 3 the game tried to go for a bit of a fresh twist on the series: they included a "real-life" component to the game. So part of the game is doing day to day events such as going to high school, shopping, extra curricular activities and the like and the other part of the game deals with the actual supernatural part such as fighting demons and gods.
Persona 4 took the ideas from Persona 3 and basically changed the setting and story while keeping the game mechanics the same. But they went too far. The developers got in over their heads and a stage for success became an absolute abomination. We will now discuss why.
The game starts of well enough. It sets a stage: big city boy thrown into a small town for a year. The catch? A streak of murders has recently struck the town. On top of this the boy begins experiencing unexplainable super natural occurrences almost as soon as he gets to the new town (e.g. weird mysterious foreboding dreams). Sounds good so far, right? I thought so too, however...
This is a long game. The story builds during the first few hours of the game with almost no gameplay and no 'filler' cutscenes. Pure story driven events setting the stage for the game. But then something happens...the murder mysteries continue, and continue, and continue, and drags on for a large number of hours with no progression whatsoever to keep peoples attention. Just the exact same murders happening with no extra info added. And so the player is sitting there, hoping to get some advancement on that mystery after completing a dungeon which can take up to 5 or even 6 hours, and...they got nothing. Then they go to the next dungeon. Rinse and repeat.
And to make things worse: remember that "real life" part of the game I was telling you about? Well after each dungeon event you will get back to the "real life" part of the game for a while. This part is cutscene heavy. The problem? The cutscenes involve characters talking at the grocery store for up to two hours at a time about what kind of spice they are going to put on their food. There are scenes that go well over an hour of characters giggling around a dinner table, talking about nothing and not advancing the story at all. Sound exaggerated? I thought it was unreal too, I couldn't believe what I was playing. I was starting to pull out my hair from boredom.
Finally though, after all the filler, all the dragging on and on...we get to the end of the game and the story's conclusion. The end of the game is pure deus ex machina stuff here folks. It feels totally made up and thrown together at the last second. It does not feel like it ties in with the rest of the game. It feels like the developers forgot about the story because they got too excited about the grocery store shopping scenes and had to throw it together at the last minute to conclude the game.
All in all, the story is a mess, it drags on with too much filler, and the ending feels like a slap in the face to anyone who was actually paying attention the whole way through.
As I mentioned earlier, the gameplay has two components: the "real life" part and what we can call the dungeon part. Both parts have a good enough concept, but unfortunately the horrible amount of repetition makes it a drag to play through.
The dungeon component involves going in to the mysterious "TV World". This sounds like a cool idea at first. Inside of the TV world is where you will be doing all of the battling and traditional RPG gameplay. Basically each stage of the TV world involves going for a hunt for a character who has ended up inside the TV world. The dungeons themselves are representations of something about the character. Sounds really cool and unique right? Wrong. Basically the difference between dungeon number x and dungeon number y are different colours of paint used for the backgrounds, palette swapped monsters, and more monsters with instant death spells as you progress. You might as well just have one big dungeon. There is no "practical" difference between each dungeon, only cosmetic differences (and obviously the difficulty spikes). Big let down and it makes the TV world feel flat. The combat is repetitive and boring. Remember the old Fire 1, Fire 2, Fire 3, Heal, Heal+, Heal++ spells? That's what the difference in the dungeons is. In dungeon A you might need Fire to defeat the enemies, then in dungeon B you might need Fire 2 to beat the enemies. Feels very repetitive. We should be expecting more these days as the RPG genre has advanced so far. Boss difficulty is artificially inflated by adding obscene amounts of HP to the bosses. You will just be sitting there casting the same spells for up to an hour because the boss just has too many hit points. Very boring and redundant way to add difficulty.
Now to the real life component. The real life component suffers from the exact same problems as the dungeon component: too much repetition. You're on a calendar system here: this means that each day you go to school, have one after school event and then go back to your house in the evening. The exceptions are holidays and Sundays where you just have the "after school event" portion and no school portion. In-school events are the same old thing: teacher will lecture about something mind-numbingly boring, They will pick you to answer a question. If they really feel like spicing it up sometimes you hear two people gossiping on your way to school and get a mini scene that way.
The after school events are where you make friendships also called "social links" in this game. Basically the more friends you make the more powerful monsters you are able to create to aid you in battle in the TV world. So you run around after school "making friends". Most of these involve watching some melodramatic scenes play out in your friends lives, and you give them the "there, there" treatment. It is like this for almost every social link. I can not remember one particularly interesting thing from these social links. These are high school students, they don't even have real problems to worry about yet. How interesting can they possibly be?
So this "real life" component is just as boring and tiring as living out your own day to day life, except there are rewards in real life and none here, so you are bound to feel miserable after playing through this.
This game is fully voice acted. The problem is, it doesn't sound natural in English. They add Japanese honourifics like -chan and -kun when talking. This sounds so bizarrely out of place when speaking in English that I had to turn the voice acting off immediately. The characters voices are also too cutesy-cutesy and they don't really come across as real people.
The music in this game is basically some electronic music with someone singing in "Engrish" over it. This hurt my ears. I had to mute the game several times because it was giving me a headache.
The Sound and music in this game feels like they were something from a niche Japanese culture. That's fine in Japanese, I'm sure the mainstream anime crowds there would appreciate it. But for the average RPG player here these Japanese cultural items will come off as too obscure and weird sounding, so it excludes a lot of people from experiencing the game properly by appealing only to this niche market. I do not approve of games that do things like this.
The graphics are pretty standard PS2 graphics. Nothing too amazing but nothing too hard on the eyes either. My main complaint is that people look too blocky and rigid. If you look at games like Final Fantasy 12 you will see the characters have realistic, fluid motions. In here it's like they are moving an on x-y coordinate system, very robotic and unnatural. The anime portraits look nicer than the characters themselves.
To sum it up: what we have on our hands here is a game with gameplay that is completely out of sync with itself. A game should not feel like it is dragging on pointlessly for 10 hours or more. A game should not use deus ex machina plot devices in this day and age, story telling has advanced much further since the days of using those. A game should not make other players feel unwelcome because they don't partake in niche Japanese cultural items. The decent graphics can not make up for all of these qualities. It's like a piece of rotten chocolate with very fancy wrapping around it. Either way it's inedible.
I do not recommend this game.
Reviewer's Rating: 0.5 - Unplayable
Originally Posted: 08/15/11
Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (US, 12/09/08)
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